Last month I described Bobby’s and my effort to create a new show that wouldn’t require so much work or passion. After having created three shows together that asked a lot of us, the idea of creating a simple crime procedural felt like the right thing to do. Despite the fact that we never actually sent our scripts to anyone, we felt rejected. More than that, even though no one had ever actually rejected us, we felt like failures. I think we were about to give up before this show came along.
Surprisingly, Dissecting Henry Crane felt to me like one of the purest creative experiences we’d ever had.
The idea was to take the basic concept of The Silence of the Lambs and turn it into a TV show. We would start at “a serial killer is aiding the FBI in catching serial killers,” and branch outward with completely original characters. The idea works, has a staggering amount of potential, and can be tonally diverse, ranging from “fun,” catch-the-killer episodes to darker character-study territory.
As I mentioned, shortly after we began working on Dissecting Henry Crane (in approximately January 2011) a fully licensed show based on Silence of the Lambs was announced (in February 2011). That being the case, Bobby and I have very little of Dissecting Henry Crane down on paper, as we would meet up and mostly just talk out what the plot would be.
Over the course of these conversations, we had basically decided this:
Henry Crane is a serial killer obsessed with serial killers. It’s known that he would emulate the style of other killers, presumably as a means of trying to understand his desire to kill by following their methods. What this means is that no one knows just how many people he has killed. Some of his murders may have actually been pinned on the killer he was copying, and he may actually shoulder blame for murders he didn’t commit.
Henry was eventually caught by an FBI agent named Leonard Weston, and after the media attention regarding his arrest subsided, he had a controversial idea. Recognizing that in addition to being a murderer, Henry Crane is also an encyclopedia about serial killers, Leonard began to consult Henry on cases. Leonard would consult Henry (in his cell) about the likely motivation of an active killer, and Henry would lend both insight and theorize about the killer’s next move. Ultimately this proved a successful endeavor and eventually the news got out that the hero Leonard Weston was working with a psychopathic madmen. Public response was mixed, but they couldn’t argue with the success rate of the two, so they continued to work together for years. Eventually Leonard began teaching courses to FBI agents in training, and was allowed to teleconference Henry Crane into the room not only as an example of a killer but also as an assistant of sorts. They would go over the details of their successful cases for the students, displaying their techniques and experiences in catching murderers.
It’s here that the pilot of the show would have started, with Leonard and Henry years into teaching the course, when they meet a student named Ed Burger (a name I don’t like, but we used). Ed notices an inconsistency in a case Leonard and Henry solved, and his realization suggests that an innocent man was captured instead of a killer. The relationship between Henry/Leonard and the FBI/media explodes with claims that the Henry Crane manipulated Leonard into letting a killer remain free. It’s suggested that Leonard forgot the real threat that Henry poses, and allowed the lunatic to influence his actions.
Ultimately it’s decided that though Leonard was once a brilliant agent, his mind became corrupted by his constant associations with Henry, who is dangerous, but could still be useful with a fresh intelligent agent using his knowledge correctly. Subsequently, they decide to hand over the responsibility to Ed Burger, but warn him that any agent working with Henry essentially has a countdown to corruption above their head.
From here, the show we planned would have been five seasons long, each season centered on a major serial killer with the potential for self-contained shows centering on the capture of a smaller profile killer. We wanted to do a character study of murderers, and each season’s main killer would have their own in-depth character study, as well as some sort of connection to Henry, whether he’d emulated their M.O. at some point or even crossed paths with them.
One of the only actual documents I have of the show is not a good representation of the show, as it’s basically just a rambling series of ideas trying to flesh out Henry’s background and motivation. I wrote it and sent it to Bobby just before we scrapped the whole project and you can even see at the end that I’m literally listing possible ideas for a killer. At the end I assure Bobby that I’m just trying to hash out concepts and exploring ideas, which we could later fine-tune:
Season Four would have ended with Henry escaping, setting the stage for Season 5 to focus on Henry himself as the main killer, with revelations about his past, some sort of connection to Ed’s childhood (which we never agreed on), and the revelation that in addition to emulating other serial killers, he had actually developed his own unique method of murder.
This show felt like a breath of fresh air to Bobby and me, as it seemed truly novel. We thought we had stumbled on a formula that no one else had ever noticed before, and as a result we felt very clever. It was exciting. Dissecting Henry Crane could be the type of show where we were free to do whatever we wanted. We could have episodes centered on Ed’s home life, shows from Henry’s perspective, or shows centered on a one-off killer with a bizarre motivation. It was a sort of creative playground.
The news that someone had noticed the potential for a series based on Hannibal Lecter basically murdered Dissecting Henry Crane. And where we had at least been allowed months of developing The Dead Don’t Walk before news of The Walking Dead came to us, we were now allowed merely a few weeks with our new creation before being steamrolled. Given that we were also only just beginning to feel creatively empowered when the news came, I think we were completely thrown out of orbit.
When Dissecting Henry Crane ended, Bobby and I stopped writing together. At this point, there were four entire universes of characters, settings, and storylines that existed nowhere but in our minds, and I think we were too tired to go on. Writing is not easy when you care about what you’re creating, and we learned that even when we try to create without caring, we can’t help but become completely invested in our work. Ultimately I think that’s a good thing, it’s just our luck that let us down.
Well, there’s luck and then there’s the fact that, again, we never actually contacted anyone about anything. Ever.
Any comments or questions: WillAndBobby@gmail.com
Next month our final project